During this challenging time, it is more important than ever to be part of a network; to have the space to talk to colleagues, hear what they are doing and share ideas.
Our WE virtual meetings are designed to support you during this challenging time. They are an opportunity to learn with and from colleagues across the country during this fast-moving situation. They are based around schools sharing what they are doing that others might benefit from, and what they’re challenged by and would like others to feedback on.
This week Rachel Tomlinson and Karl Cross, Barrowford Primary School’s Headteacher and Year 6 teacher shared how the school has built upon their strong community relationships to ensure that the children from their school are happy and safe whilst learning at home.
Key themes and discussions:
How can we ensure that all pupils can access learning? The access to technology at home is still an issue for some children with many families having one device and multiple people in the household needing to use it. Internet access continues to be a challenge, too. Schools are working hard to resolve these challenges in their own ways (e.g. loaning out devices from school, purchasing dongles), but central guidance and support is much needed.
What can we do to be fully prepared for schools reopening, with a re-integration plan for different scenarios? Schools are determined to be prepared for all eventualities once the government announces that schools are re-opening. However, early clarity about when, who and how this will happen would be appreciated.
How can we manage what is effectively two schools at once – a virtual school, with most of our children, and the physical school with a few pupils? School leaders are working hard with their staff to support all pupils, whether they are being educated at school or learning at home. There are numerous challenges to overcome in both cases, e.g. the number of pupils attending the school site changes daily, not all children are engaging with their home learning.
What approaches can schools use to communicate as simply as possible with all their parents? This is a particular focus for primaries in the WE network, as they look to maintain the school culture and ethos and involve all of their families in school life and learning.
Ideas and solutions shared by the network
1. Develop ABC return to school plans based on differing scenarios. Be flexible and explore when you can put transition arrangements in place. Maxine from Brooklands Farm Primary said that for the last 5 years pupils at her school have transitioned to the next year group on 1 July. She thought that continuing with this approach in addition to exploring whether the school should open during the Summer holidays might be of particular benefit given the uncertainty around when schools will reopen.
2. Support children with access to technology at home. Some school leaders have loaned out all of the IT equipment to children who do not have access at home. The purchase of dongles has enabled schools to provide children/families with access to the internet to support learning at home. However, many schools have identified the need for numerous activities that the children will enjoy which take them away from screens.
3. Explore partners like the ‘Real Junk Food project’ that can help you support community’s needs. Rachel Tomlinson from Barrowford got in touch with the group, and as a result ended up supporting with the re-distribution of 24 tonnes of food in a single day, otherwise going to waste – enough to support all their most vulnerable families, and a whole range of their community partners – food banks, youth organisations and charities.
4. Where possible, continue to use and employ normal suppliers and providers. Not only does this have the effect of supporting the businesses and individuals that make up the education ecosystem, but it also means you should be prepared for a smoother return to school life, and those providers can usually help school support their community effectively in a virtual setting (lots of schools are using their caterers to create food packages for children and families in the community for example).
Communicating with families
5. Use social media to reach your school community – for example with daily Instagram challenges…. The Headteachers at Mayfield have created a professional Instagram account to post daily challenges to children and families. They referenced research showing 90% of vulnerable families do have access to a phone so apps like Instagram could help engage the hardest to reach.
6. …Or staff social media profiles. Barrowford Primary creates a professional social media profile for each member of staff, which they use to communicate with parents during normal operations. During this extraordinary time, these have been more useful than ever.
7. Send a postcard to all your children. Stapleford Primary School have sent a postcard to each of their children to keep in touch and as a nice reminder they are thinking about them. It’s a lovely supplement to online communications.
8. Check with parents that the learning and communications broadly match their needs. Barrowford sent an incredibly simple survey with three questions – if the level of learning, interaction between adults and children and children and children had been too little, too much or just right. Keeping it incredibly simple meant they had lots of responses (and over 90% had said ‘just right’ in each category – well done!).
9. Carve out a space for communicating with the children in the same way that you would in the classroom. This should be separate from any comms with parents. The classroom time with children is vital for their wellbeing and development. If this can be face-to-face, rather than written, it is so much more powerful and also means that staff know their children are ok. Barrowford have ‘book ended’ their day by staff checking in with children at 9am (to say good morning, share learning for the day ahead, etc) and again at 3pm (to share a story).
10. Create a simple document to track communications with children and families – particularly your most vulnerable. Ensure all staff who might speak to a family or child know about this and log their communications on there, and have a dedicated ‘lead’ member of staff for each vulnerable family who is responsible for following up with them. A number of schools are using this kind of approach to manage safeguarding and ensure nobody falls through the gaps.
Register your interest in the series to share your ideas with other primary leaders across the country and find out how they are tackling shared challenges.